An aerial view of the Aguas Corrientes water treatment plant on 8 July 2023 in Canelones, Uruguay. EFE/Gaston Britos

Intermittent rains, public works help ease water problems in drought-stricken Uruguay

By Raul Martinez

An aerial view of the Aguas Calientes water treatment plant on 8 July 2023 in Canelones, Uruguay. EFE/Gaston Britos

Montevideo, Aug 15 (EFE).- Intermittent rains and state-funded public works projects are helping ensure access to water amid Uruguay’s worst drought in recorded history, although more sustained downpours are still needed.

A 10 August 2023 photo of a stretch of the San Jose River near San Jose, Uruguay. EFE/Gaston Britos

“We can’t claim victory yet. It has to rain,” Uruguayan President Luis Lacalle Pou said in July after slightly higher water levels were registered at the country’s largest reservoir, Paso Severino, which still remains far from its normal capacity.

But a general sense of calm has been restored as those levels have continued to rise steadily and forecasts indicate abundant rainfall starting in the second half of August.


A desalination plant and the installation of a pumping station at one of Uruguay’s main rivers are two public works projects by Lacalle Pou’s administration that have helped ease the situation.

The materials for the desalination plant arrived from the United States on July 27, and it is now in operation in the southern city of Salinas.

That facility has the capacity to produce 150,000 liters (39,630 gallons) of drinking water per day and will be used to supply the Montevideo metropolitan area.

The pumping station, for its part, was inaugurated on Aug. 10 and will allow water to be transported from the San Jose River in southwestern Uruguay to the Aguas Corrientes water treatment plant, a facility in the southern city of Belastiqui that supplies the departments of Montevideo and Canelones.

A total of 2,000 cubic meters (70,490 cubic feet) of freshwater are now arriving per hour at Aguas Corrientes thanks to the new pumping station, according to the deputy technical manager of state water utility Obras Sanitarias del Estado (OSE), Jorge Minola.

Authorities at the Uruguayan Chamber of Construction, meanwhile, say the amount pumped from the San Jose River is sufficient to supply water to around 150,000 people.


A lack of precipitation has plagued Uruguay since 2020.

But the situation further deteriorated in 2022 during the Southern Hemisphere summer due to the effects of the La Niña weather phenomenon.

As a result, the reserves of the Paso Severino reservoir – the main source of freshwater for the Uruguayan capital – dwindled to just 900,000 cubic meters, or just 1.3 percent of its 67 million-cubic-meter capacity.

Intermittent rainfall since then, however, has caused water levels to rise to a current level of roughly 11.4 million cubic meters, according to OSE’s daily report.

For its part, the Uruguayan Institute of Meteorology (Inumet) is forecasting that higher-than-usual winter temperatures this week in much of the national territory will precede the arrival of a cold front that will bring an estimated 50 millimeters (2 inches) of rainfall on average.

Amid the continued drought conditions, the Uruguay government declared a water emergency on June 19 for the Montevideo metropolitan area.

As part of that move, it adopted a series of measures that included lowering the water quality by mixing the freshwater at Paso Severino with more brackish water from sources near Rio de la Plata and removing.

The government also made bottled water exempt from sales tax.

That latter move caused the price of a 6.25-liter drum of water to fall from 129 pesos ($3.27) to 89 pesos. EFE